Thursday, December 19, 2013

Web Browser Comparison

Today, there are a variety of ways for us to surf the web on both personal computers and mobile devices. A browser is the software that allows us to view web pages (when coupled with an internet connection). The major browsers today are generally (with some exceptions) cross-platform programs that will run on most operating systems, and can perform a variety of tasks from displaying diverse content types to debugging web pages. Becoming familiar with your browser is important for a safe and efficient web experience.





Which browser are you running?
*
Apple Safari
Safari is the default browser for MacOS and iOS users – it comes standard on all Macs and iPhones.
*
Google Chrome
Chrome is a self-described ‘fast and light’ browser developed by Google to run on all major operating systems, including mobile. It is the most widely used browser.
*
Mozilla Firefox
Firefox is a well-known, free, and open-source browser available for all platforms except iOS (iPhone).
*
Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE)
Internet Explorer has been the default browser for Microsoft Windows users since 1995. It runs only on Windows (Macintosh compatibility was discontinued in 1999).
*
Opera Opera
Opera is the oldest major web browser, and supports nearly every OS, including most mobile platforms. Its mobile version (‘Opera Mini’) has become much more popular than its desktop client.


Tips and tricks in your browser
Competition between software companies has led to widespread adoption of features that make internet browsing faster and easier. All the major browsers mentioned previously allow you to utilize the techniques listed below.
Tabs
This image shows an example of the tabbed browsing interface in Chrome. Most browsers should have a similar style – separate web pages are displayed above the address bar in their own tabs. Clicking on a tab will switch to the relevant web page, while the ‘x’ on a tab will close it. A ‘new tab’ button (often a + character) appears at the right-hand side of the interface. One thing to remember about tabs is that each tab runs on a separate process in the computer’s memory – that means that the more tabs you keep open, the more you’ll slow down your computer.
Keyboard shortcuts
Shortcuts come in handy to lessen the amount of moving and clicking you have to do to browse efficiently. The most important aspects of a browser can all be controlled via your keyboard – making an effort to learn shortcuts will pay off! Here are just some examples – search online or open your browser’s help tool to find all of its shortcuts.

Make a new tab and switch to it
Automatically insert ‘http://www...com”
Browse privately (won’t save history)




Mac
Windows
Mac
Windows
Mac
Windows
Safari
⌘+T





Chrome
⌘+T
Ctrl+T

Ctrl+Enter
⌘+Shift+N
Ctrl+Shift+N
Firefox
⌘+T
Ctrl+T
⌘+Enter
Ctrl+Enter
⌘+Shift+P
Ctrl+Shift+P
IE

Ctrl+T

Ctrl+Enter

Ctrl+Shift+P
Opera
⌘+T
Ctrl+T






Extensions and add-ons
Some browsers support the development and installation of ‘add-on’ software to extend their functionality (sometimes also called ‘extensions’ or ‘apps’). Extensions can do everything from clipping and saving web content you like, to automatically filling out forms for you. Methods of managing plugins depend on the browser you’re using:

Mac
Windows
Safari
Safari > Safari Extensions

Chrome
* > Settings > Extensions** > Settings > Extensions*
Firefox
Tools > Add-ons
Tools > Add-ons
IE

* > Manage add-ons
Opera
**
**
*Chrome includes its own standalone ‘web store’, https://chrome.google.com/webstore/category/apps. In Chrome’s case, the user can install both ‘extensions’ and ‘apps’, which appear on Chrome’s home screen and function much like a ‘shortcut’ or an iOS app.
**Opera doesn’t have a centralized plugin repository. General instructions for managing Opera plugins are available on the Opera website: http://www.opera.com/docs/plugins/installation/#general.


Browsing securely
Staying up-to-date
All of the browsers mentioned in this article have some form of automatic (or semi-automatic) update system, but in some cases your intervention is required to make sure you’re running the latest version. Browser updates are a critical part of keeping your computer healthy, just like scanning for viruses – they ensure that possible security holes and flaws that hackers could exploit get patched or corrected.
Browser
Update method
Safari
Apple’s software update utility (also updates things like QuickTime and iTunes) will update Safari for you.
Chrome
Chrome updates automatically in the background – you don’t have to do anything.
Firefox
Firefox will inform you when you start it up if you’re running an old version. Make sure to follow the instructions to update – updates are frequent but necessary.
IE
Like Safari, IE is updated by Microsoft’s proprietary Windows update tool, which also updates your operating system.
Opera
Like Firefox, Opera will notify you when updates are available to get your permission to install them.


Java
Java is a combination of programming language and software that you will almost certainly encounter while browsing the web. It is designed to allow code to be executed exactly the same way on many different types of machines – this allows Java to be run on everything from mobile phones to supercomputers. Keeping Java up-to-date is perhaps the single most important security task when browsing the web: its complex but ubiquitous nature makes it a frequent target for hackers. Java was originally developed by Sun Microsystems and purchased by Oracle, a database company.
Java can be downloaded for free at http://java.com/en/download/index.jsp. This page both allows you to check whether you have the latest version of Java, and to download it if you don’t have it installed at all. Once installed, Java will automatically prompt you for updates – you may notice a coffee-cup logo appear in your taskbar or dock. Make sure to read the installation instructions carefully during each update – the updater may ask you if you want to install some software that you don’t need or want (for example, the ask.com toolbar).
Security warnings
This is an example of a security certificate warning in Internet Explorer (most browsers will offer a similar page before taking you to the page you requested). Security certificates, which indicate a site really is what it claims to be, are a tricky business – often these errors result from an honest mistake made by the site’s proprietors, but sometimes they indicate an attempt to trick the user using what is known as a man-in-the-middle attack. When in doubt, call the WCTS helpdesk at x4976 or get in touch with the manager of the site, if possible.

This is an example of an application security warning dialog in Chrome (again, most browsers will display a similar dialog). The ‘digital signature’ the warning refers to is much like a site’s certificate – many applications that are legitimate do not have a signature, but sometimes this may indicate a malicious application. Again, use your best judgment: if the dialog is describing an application that doesn’t sound like something you want, don’t take the risk of letting it run on your system.